Clients come to us for the creative outputs we offer them, but our work is not possible without first establishing a trust relationship with the decision-maker on the client team.
This is how it works: Our clients trust that we are the best resource for their needs, and we trust that the client sees us as the experts in what we do. If this trust goes missing for whatever reason from either direction, the game is over.
You really have to be a certain type of personality to be okay with the client-service model. I like to build something. I like to figure something out. I don’t like just to dip in and shake it up and then hand it back.
I have admitted more than once that I do not have the right personality for client service. Like Tina Roth Eisenberg, I feel a sense of “ownership” of the work. At the same time, we are clearly hired to make the work for our clients, with their money. Thus, they ALWAYS have a big say in the shaping of the work.
To me, it matters how a client provides feedback and how the agency manages this feedback. If a client routinely rewrites the copy and suggests changes to the art, a flag needs to be thrown. I understand that clients sometimes don’t realize they’re overstepping. Nevertheless, it’s our job to establish the ground rules for the engagement before any work starts.
It Always Starts Before It Begins
It’s funny, but not, how much damage to one’s business is self-inflicted. When you compromise your values and accept less from a client, financially or otherwise, you’re asking for trouble. It’s imperative for an agency to hold its ground on pricing and process. Save the wiggle room for later when it comes to the actual work because it simply can’t be there in the beginning.
I know all this sounds like a power struggle, and it is. When an agency gives its power away, the agency loses. That’s the mindset shift that has to be front-and-center for all agency staff. The client will always have the power of their pocketbook and a right to voice their convictions. That’s fine. As long as we successfully establish why we’re worth what we’re worth and what we bring to the table. Without that understanding, there is no balance to the partnership and it’s doomed to fail.
On the other hand, when a client knows precisely why they’re paying a premium, their doubts fade away.
Be Trustworthy Now
Breakthrough creative does not appear randomly in the world. The agency sets the stage for a client’s future wins, which means a lot of hard work has to be done behind the scenes to earn the trust of clients, without which the creative team will be severely hampered in their abilities to deliver.
As a creative, I still see some of this interpersonal work as a hassle, but I do not question its value. Coming up with big ideas is relatively easy. Making them come true, on time and within budget for a client, is never easy. There are always a dozen ways the work can be killed or harmed before it’s launched. When there’s a lot on the line, people get scared, nervous and dangerous. The account sage preserves the peace and moves the process forward.
I do not yet have “account sage” status, but I am steadily working my way to the mountaintop.
Why Cross-Training Is Mandatory
My responsibilities at Bonehook include managing new business, account service, agency operations, strategic planning, creative direction and copywriting.
My core skills are copywriting and creative direction, and I love to focus there. So, why do I bother with all these other roles? The answer is we rely on new business, account service, agency operations and strategic planning to open the door to better creative.
The need to wear multiple hats also extends to the client-side of the table. Clients, like agencies, are running lean. This puts the onus on staff to juggle. When a company does not have a marketing department or director, the complexity multiplies. For instance, it’s tough to discuss the value of brand with someone who can only think about a quarterly sales bump and how it will save their job.
Ultimately, cross-training strengthens both agency and client teams. People gain more skills and confidence on the job. Beyond the skills gained, cross-training promotes deeper organizational understanding and empathy. The more I can learn about a client’s pain, the more prepared I am to offer the correct solution. This means I have to listen intently with no prescribed solutions at the ready. It’s not the easiest thing to learn to do, but it’s one of the more valuable things I’m learning to do.